Biological secret complicates divorce

Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: After 20 years of marriage, my husband and I are getting a divorce. We have two kids -- a 12-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. My husband adopted my daughter when she was 3. She believes my husband is her birth father. How do I tell her he's not her birth father? How do I help her if she wants to meet the birth father? How do I explain to my son that my daughter is his half sister? I want to handle this with compassion for both children.Confused

DEAR CONFUSED: The way to have a difficult conversation is to prepare by thinking it through and finding the right way to express yourself, simply and truthfully -- and then being brave and patient.

I urge you to wait until things are stable. Ideally this conversation would be with you and your ex together, united by mutual love for your daughter as well as your desire for her to know the truth.

He should be involved because his job will be to tell your daughter that, no matter what, he will always be her dad. As her adoptive father and the man who helped raise her, he is her "real" father.

When the moment is right, sit with her and tell her she has a different biological father from her brother. Answer questions truthfully. If she wants to meet him, help her find him and play a supportive role throughout the process.

After you speak with her, you should convey this information to her brother, plainly and accurately. Do not emphasize the fact that they are "half" siblings, but focus on the wholeness of their relationship.

A professional therapist with experience working with adolescents can help your daughter process this information, along with helping her deal with complicated feelings and frustration with all of the adults in her life. She might feel confused and abandoned, and you should be patient and consistently kind -- and always in her corner.